All-Terrain VehiclesAuto Buying & SellingAuto RepairAutomotive IndustryCampers & MotorhomesCarsCommercial VehiclesMotorcycles & ScootersSafe DrivingTrucks, SUVs, & Vans

Why You Need to Avoid Buying RVs Sight Unseen

Updated on January 29, 2017
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I am an avid RV enthusiast who has traveled, lived, workcamped and volunteered nationwide for more than 50 years and am still going strong!

With RV prices skyrocketing, it has become a fairly common practice for people to scour the internet for good deals and then buy one sight unseen.

Normally those who do something like this are new to recreational vehicles and know little about them.

However, even if they are experienced, the fact of the matter is that making the purchase of a coach without being able to personally inspect and drive it is never a good idea.

So, why do people do it?

This RV is full of black mold.  Can you tell it from this photo?
This RV is full of black mold. Can you tell it from this photo? | Source

It’s Cheaper

The number one reason for making this type of purchase is to save money.

Clearly, if you have the choice of paying $150,000 or $125,000 for the same year, model and brand of coach, why wouldn’t you want do so?

$25,000 is a lot of money, so to many, the savings might be worth the seemingly small risk.

  • They assume that by cutting their purchase costs, they’ll have plenty of money left over to take care of any necessary repairs.
  • What they often don’t realize is that certain problems in coaches cannot be repaired at any cost. Even those that can could easily eat up any money that was saved in the first place!

Traveling to See a Coach Can Be Expensive

Since many recreational vehicles are for sale online, they usually are located at some distance from the location of a potential buyer.

Those who find one they are interested in often feel as though it’s a risk to spend the money to travel long distances to examine it because doing this often requires paying for air fair, meals and hotels.

Who wants to spend hundreds of dollars to go and check out a unit they may not want?

Wouldn’t it be better to put that money towards the purchase instead of wasting it on travel costs?

Not really. If you are not willing to spend the time and money to personally travel to see a coach, you could easily end up buying a lemon that will cost you far more than what you would pay to go and inspect it.

It's Faster and Easier to Buy This Way

Shoppers often see what appears to be a great deal when they check out the travel units that are advertised on the internet.

They think that

  1. rushing to buy it will save them months of tedious research and looking and will allow them to start traveling sooner and
  2. they need to “lock in the deal” before someone else gets it.

However, most online sellers, especially those who offer their coaches on sites such as Ebay, want immediate deposits to hold a coach and then demand that buyers pay the entire amount due within a few days.

If the unit is located hundreds or thousands of miles away, policies like this leave little time for inspections or clear headed decisions. This is exactly why sellers use them.

They don’t want you to inspect closely or have time to make educated choices; they want you to buy, no matter how many problems a coach may have.

Some even offer inspection and delivery services for a fee, so that people will feel more secure about making a purchase. However, trusting strangers to decide for you that a travel unit is in good condition is not a smart move.

It also is not wise to assume that because you already placed a deposit on a coach that you are locked in to buying it. Even if you can’t get your deposit back, the loss you take from backing out of your deal could easily be much smaller than what you might have to pay later to make repairs and upgrades to a substandard RV.

For these reasons, rushing into a deal that looks good but has no guarantees and where you are risking thousands of dollars is never a good idea. It may seem an easier way to find what you’re looking for, but it really is not.

The Photos Look Good

One of the big ironies about RVs is that they can be in horrible shape, but will look terrific when carefully photographed.

You can look at beautiful photos of refrigerators, engines and generators all day long, but you can’t know if they work if you are not personally there to inspect them, take test drives, check for cleanliness and leaks or peruse maintenance records.

The same is true for tires. Tires can have a lot of tread on them, but this does not mean they are safe. Any tire older than 5 years needs to be replaced, and this can cost thousands of dollars.

Until you can see, touch and smell a recreational vehicle yourself, you really can have no idea about it. Trusting that photos show the true story is always a mistake.

The Seller Promised the Unit to Be Sound

Whether you are dealing with an individual or dealer, relying on his word that the RV you want to purchase is in good condition is always an error.

Unfortunately, it’s one that just about all buyers make and can end up costing them plenty.

Even new coaches right out of the factory can have all sorts of problems. What You Need to Know About RV Manufacturing Rip Offs explains more about this issue.

Thus, buyers should always bear in mind that if the asking price for a particular unit is far below the NADA value, there is a reason. The trick is to find out exactly what that reason is before you plunk your money down on the sales table.

Few sellers will be truthful about this issue, so if you cannot be personally present to play detective, you won’t know until it’s too late.

The person who bought this RV sight unseen didn't know that it had a propane leak!
The person who bought this RV sight unseen didn't know that it had a propane leak! | Source

How High Are the Risks of Buying Sight Unseen?

If you have paid close attention to what I have written here, you should have been able to figure out by now that buying an RV sight unseen can be a huge risk.

Sometimes people get lucky, but the majority wind up owning units that have

  • slide rooms that don’t work properly,
  • delamination problems,
  • leaks,
  • odors that make travel miserable

and other problems that are frustrating, time consuming and expensive to repair.

I have met owners of brand new units who have complained about broken floor joists, windows that have literally fallen out of their coaches and air support systems that were the wrong size for the RVs they had purchased.

I have also met owners of used but well-maintained units that have done well.

In both cases, there is no way for buyers to know the situation unless they personally inspect a coach.

A Sad But True Tale

Not convinced yet? Then let me tell you a true story of what happened to my husband and me when we decided to buy a used motor home sight unseen several years ago.

We purchased it from an Ebay seller who owned a company and had used this coach in his business.

The price was unbelievably low, and the photos looked fantastic. We called to discuss the condition of this coach and were told it was in “great condition and ready for travel”.

They said that everything was in working condition, there were no leaks and no odors. It had never been smoked in or had pets..

Since we thought Ebay protected this purchase (as per their advertising) and since the unit was being sold by a company rather than an individual, we assumed we were safe in buying it.

An Unhappy Surprise

We spent hundreds of dollars to fly to Northwestern Arkansas to close the deal and pick up the RV.

An employee picked us up at the airport and delivered us to the company’s headquarters.

Long story short, the motor home was almost nothing like what was described to us. We had very little time to inspect it, but from what we saw, felt it would do, so we purchased it.

We thought Ebay would protect our purchase, but they did absolutely nothing for us because it turned out that their “protection” only covered the engine, which was one of the things that actually was working well!

More Bad News

After driving the coach home, we found that

  • it had unrepairable body damage,
  • it had a terrible roof leak that had created a black mold problem in the cabinets above the refrigerator,
  • the generator had to be replaced,
  • all of the furniture had to be thrown out and replaced and
  • all of the carpeting and tile had to be replaced.

Fortunately my husband had the tools and ability to make most of the repairs and upgrades, but by the time we upgraded the coach and sold it, we took a loss of $3,000.

It would have been more had we not threatened to sue the seller and make him refund $1500 to us.

Let me add here that we were not newbies when we did this. We should have known better, but were in such a hurry to get back to RVing after having given it up due to health problems, that we made just about all of the mistakes listed above!

This Also Applies to RVs. Important Read!

Buyer Beware

The great irony in this story is that we really liked that coach. It got the best mileage of any motor home we had owned, had a great floor plan, and once repaired actually was beautiful (except, of course, for the body damage).

However, we just couldn’t get past the fact that there were unrepairable dents in the basement doors, so we took the loss and moved on.

  • Were we crazy to buy this coach sight unseen? You bet!
  • Will we ever do something this stupid again? Absolutely not!

I hope that after reading this article, you’ll think twice as well.

If two highly experienced RV owners could make this type of mistake, anybody can, so buyer beware!

After reading this article, would you still buy an RV sight unseen if it seemed like a good deal?

See results



Submit a Comment

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 4 months ago

    Coffeequeen: Well, I have 106 more articles here that you can take a look at if you want to learn more about RV living and travel. If you love to travel, RVing is the way to go!

  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 4 months ago from Norfolk, England

    Interesting article. I'd love to own something like this. I love traveling. =)

Click to Rate This Article